Ethiopian Adoptees and Black History Month: A Great Video

Four Ethiopian adoptees have made a thoughtful, provocative video for Black History Month, talking about what it means to be black, Ethiopian, and African, in the US and in Canada.

Their “I Am Black History” video is available here.

I congratulate Aselefech Evans, Rahel Tafere, Annette-Kassaye, and Mekdes SOulgarden for their willingness to share their valuable perspectives. It’s about adoption, it’s about identity, it’s about race, and it’s about empowerment.

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Kudos and gratitude also to Bryan Tucker, the producer of the wonderful documentary Closure. Bryan gave his time, expertise, and talent to “I AM Black History,” and that means a great deal.

This video is groundbreaking and personal. We need these conversations. Many thanks to everyone involved.

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National Adoption Month and Awareness: Flip the Script

National Adoption Month begins today, an idea that seems straightforward until you start talking with people about it. Whose stories are heard this month? Whose interests are represented? It’s time to #FliptheScript, and hand over the microphone to new voices.

The North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) says that, in 1990, they began raising awareness of what had been Adoption Week (the week of Thanksgiving) and   started promoting November as National Adoption Awareness Month. The original purpose was to increase awareness about the need for adoptive families for children in US foster care.

National Adoption Awareness Month in the past has been touted almost exclusively by public and private adoption agencies and adoptive parents. Like the adoption tax credit, the original focus on children in US foster care has expanded to promote adoption of children around the globe.

If we are going to do adoption right, we have to take a hard look at it. We need to listen carefully to those who have a wide range of experiences as a result of adoption: the wonderful, the good, the difficult, the traumatic. Adoption is not a Hallmark greeting card or sweet interracial family photo. It’s time to flip that script. The stories and pictures are complex, and that’s okay.

Awareness is key. We need to move toward increased awareness of adoption and of family preservation/reunification. Those are big, complicated, potentially rewarding undertakings. Let’s look beyond cute pictures and platitudes.

Let’s listen to the voices that we can truly learn from: adopted adults. Let’s move the microphone, held in the past and present by adoption agencies and adoptive parents, and hand it to them.

Take a look today on Twitter for #FliptheScript. Listen to the voices of adoptees who love their adoptive families deeply, and who have struggled nonetheless. Listen to those who had horrible, fraudulent experiences, and who have survived.

Listen to those who have been denied the most basic human right–to know who they are–because they are denied the right to access their own original birth certificates.

Look at who is talking about National Adoption Awareness Month. Sure, listen to the agencies and parents. Then give deeply to listening to those who have truly lived what it means to be adopted.

Inverted image of spider web photo, taken by Maureen McCauley Evans

Inverted image of spider web photo, taken by Maureen McCauley Evans

 

 

 

 

Helping Adult Adoptees Return to Their Homelands

Humans of New York (HONY) recently posted about a young adoptee in Israel. She hopes to return to Brazil to meet her birth mother. The post got 400,000 likes, and was shared some 4,000 times. Journalists, flight attendants, and hundreds of other people around the globe now want to help her. I’ve no doubt that the young woman is well on her way now to making her dream a reality.

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For international adoptees not featured on HONY, what support do they get to return to the country where they were born?

My daughter Aselefech wrote a powerful article, “Finding A Way Home,” in this month’s Gazillion Voices about exactly this question. The coincidence (she had written her article before the HONY post was published) suggests to me that there is global interest and need. Aselefech writes, “Going back (to one’s country of birth) is more than about visiting your birthplace like a tourist. It’s about completing your identity, and salvaging the very things adoption has stripped you of. Adoption has a huge impact on our identity, many times stripping away the very core of what we believed made us who we are.”

It’s expensive to travel around the world. How does one travel from Canada to Ethiopia, or Israel to Brazil, or the US to China? Adoptees can, of course, save money for such a trip, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Still, the reality is that original family members die, adoption agencies close, records are lost, and time is wasted. International adoptees had no voice in being moved from their first countries. Is the adoptees’ only recourse to have adoptive parents willing and able to fund a trip to the homeland, or to do online fundraisers to reconnect with their own heritage, culture, and family?

A Google search for “funding for adoptive parents” yielded 21,000 results. Without quotation marks, it had over 8 million. The phrase Funding for International Adoption also got about 8 million results. Loads of resources, grants, and fundraisers for people thinking about adopting a child.

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Then I Googled “funding for adult adoptees.” It had No Results. Without quotation marks, it had about 82,000 results, or roughly one-tenth of those for adoptive parents.

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“Funding for international adoptees” also yielded No Results. That same search without quotation marks yielded just over 200 results, but loaded only 12, all of which were about the only US program I am aware of that provides funds to adoptees: the Gift of Identity which is part of TIES: Adoptive Family Travel. It seems a good model, though it’s only for US citizens, is connected with the homeland tours, and requires a “pay it forward” commitment.

I envision programs for adult adoptees who would travel alone, or with other adopted adults, or with a spouse or partner, not with Mom and Dad.

Mom and Dad were eligible for big funding on the front-end of adoption. American adoptive parents have received some $7 Billion via the adoption tax credit, most of which has gone to reimburse the parents for the cost of international adoptions. I’ve argued that even a small part of those funds should go to pre-adoption preparation, and for post-adoption services (including for first/birth parents as well). Adoption agencies and adoptive parents have been aggressive and successful proponents of the adoption tax credit as it exists.

Are those same adoption agencies and parents willing to advocate for funding to help adult international adoptees (especially those with limited financial resources and those whose adoptive families cannot or will not help them) visit their homeland and search for their original family?

Here’s my vision going out to the universe today: Funding for adult international adoptees, all around the world, to visit the country of their birth, a global collaboration for and by adult adoptees that could include a partnership with parents (first/birth and adoptive) as well as airlines, businesses, governments, and more. As Aselefech writes in Gazillion Voices, “I believe going back to your mother land should not be a privilege, but a basic human right. Let’s find a way to give that right and experience to others. It might be through legislative advocacy, through grants, through partnerships, or through networking around the globe. But it’s time for us to make sure we can all find our way home when we need to.”

To read Aselefech’s full article in Gazillion Voices, you need to subscribe. It’s well worth it, for her article, my article, and lots of great articles and features. Good news: until October 10, you can subscribe for a deeply discounted price. Click here for more information!

 

 

 

 

 

Is Probation the Appropriate Punishment for Abusing Adopted Children?

Douglas and Kristen Barbour pled No Contest in June to charges of child abuse and endangerment of their adopted Ethiopian children. On September 15, they will be sentenced. Both are asking for probation. Join me and many others in sending a message to the court that probation is not appropriate punishment.

If the court decides that probation is fair, what would the message be about the value of these children? What would it say about the responsibilities of adoptive parents to care for children? What would it say to Ethiopia about how their children are treated? Who will speak out on behalf of innocent children who are abused and endangered?

The Barbours adopted two Ethiopian children, ages 5 and 1, in March 2012. They had 2 biological children who were about 3 and 5 at that time. In October 2012, Douglas and Kristen Barbour (he was a state prosecutor; she a stay-at-home mom) were arrested for assault and endangerment of the two adopted children. The little boy was hospitalized for hypothermia, had skin lesions, and was dramatically underweight. The baby girl had healing fractures and retinal hemorrhaging. After being released from the hospital, both children were removed from the Barbours’ home by the state of Pennsylvania and placed in foster care. Read more about the case here.

The Barbours were well-educated people, experienced parents, middle class, with access to many resources they chose not to use. If a stranger had broken into the Barbour home and harmed the children the way their adoptive parents did, he would be sentenced to far more than probation.

Probation is not an appropriate punishment for broken bones, endangerment, trauma, and abuse, to which the parents did not plead “Innocent.” They pled no contest. Probation sends a terrible message to the community about the value of adopted children, and of children generally.

Please share your views about that punishment by writing to Allegheny County President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, Court of Common Pleas, 330 Frick Building, 437 Grant St., Pittsburgh, PA 15219. Fax: 412-350-3842

(Unfortunately, I do not have an email. If anyone has an email, please let me know.)

A brief note will do. We need to speak out for the children.

Write to Assistant District Attorney Jennifer DiGiovanni (attorney for the children) at Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, 401 Courthouse, 436 Grant St, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.

Send an email to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Paula Ward about fairness for abused adopted children, at pward@post-gazette.com.

On behalf of the children, thank you very much.

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Calling NPR–KUOW: Who’s Missing from Today’s Transracial Adoption Discussion?

Today’s NPR Sunday Morning Edition show (broadcast locally here in Seattle on KUOW) is about transracial adoption. The guest is Rachel Garlinghouse, the white adoptive mother of three black children, all of whom are under six years old. Rachel seems like a lovely person, has a very popular blog, wrote a book about transracial adoption, and dispenses lots of advice about transracial adoptive parenting. The headline is about the double takes the family gets. Let me assure you that’s the least of what transracial adoptees go through, yet that’s apparently the big draw to advertise the segment.

So who’s missing from today’s discussion? The people most affected by the topic.

While I don’t dismiss Rachel’s perspective, I am deeply disappointed that Yet Another Show about transracial adoption features Yet Another Nice White Adoptive Parent, this one whose kids are preschoolers.

She lives in a predominately white area in Illinois, and has hired a black, Christian woman to be a mentor for her children. Hired.

She says on her blog description of herself: “I really wish I lived on the beach. Except sand and Black hair don’t mix well.” Oh my.

What do all those folks in the Caribbean do?

My gentle jabs here at Rachel are nothing compared to what her children may face later, as black Americans in what remains a racist society. She clearly deeply loves her children, but she can only imagine what lies ahead for them.

Look at most NPR segments on international and transracial adoption, and who are the guests? Nice white adoptive parents. And often nice white adoption agency executives and lawyers (who are often adoptive parents).

NPR lost, yet again, an opportunity for listeners to hear from those most affected by transracial adoption: adult adoptees. Angela Tucker was passed over. She writes a blog called The Adopted Life. Yes, the bright, warm, perceptive African-American adult adoptee, raised in Bellingham, WA, by white parents, featured in the powerful documentary Closure (about her search and reunion with her original African-American family in Tennessee), now living in Seattle–the NPR producers decided not to have her on.

Other transracial adoptees that might have provided an “unexpected side of the news,” as the Sunday Conversation describes itself, would be the Ethiopian adoptees mentioned in Kathryn Joyce’s recent Slate article “The Tragic Death of An Ethiopian Adoptee and How It Could Happen Again.”

Another would be Chad Goller-Sojourner, an African-American transracially adopted adult, “a storyteller, solo-performer and recipient of a distinguished Washington State Arts Commission Performing Arts Fellowship. Most recently he served as the 2013 Ohio University Glidden Visiting Professor, where his work focused on the social, political and historical dimensions of multi-identity construction and intersectionality. In 2011 he was awarded both an Artist Trust Grant and Creative Artist Residency to further develop his sophomore solo show: Riding in Cars with Black People & Other Newly Dangerous Acts: A Memoir in Vanishing Whiteness.” You can read more about Chad and his other plays and work here.

In May 2013, NPR (and KUOW) did have a Sunday Conversation on adoption that included Nicole Soojung Callahan, a US adult adoptee in the Washington, DC, area, and an adoption attorney, to discuss legal issues in adoption searches. Nicole is an insightful, smart person, and as usual did a wonderful job discussing the story of her search. She had written a great piece in Slate about her search; click here  to read it. The segment was not about transracial adoption, though Nicole could have talked on that subject, on today’s NPR show. You can listen to the May 2013 show here.

Who are the people most impacted by transracial adoption? I’d argue it’s the adoptees, for whom transracial adoption was not a choice, for whom other people decided that transracial adoption would be best. Adoptees who do not remain children, as sweet and wonderful as they may be as preschoolers. Adoptees who grow up and can speak genuinely of their experiences with racial discrimination, of what their parents did and didn’t do successfully to prepare them for adulthood as people of color, and of what “transracial adoption” really involves. Other great people to talk about transracial adoption could be found via Lost Daughters, Gazillion Voices, and many other resources. Many have written books, just like Rachel Garlinghouse.

Rachel Garlinghouse’s 3 little African-American children are all placed as open adoptions, meaning some form of ongoing contact with their first/original parents. It would have been interesting if any of the those parents were also on this show. As best I can tell, none of the 6 is included.

Sadly, NPR’s approach today is nothing new for NPR or other media outlets. First parents are very marginalized in discussions about adoption, as are adult adoptees. We white adoptive parents are almost always the first picks for shows about adoption, and that has to stop. I wrote about this very topic last September: “To NPR, PBS, HuffPo, News Media: Don’t Quote Me, Don’t Ask Me.” 

You can link to the NPR show, and comment on it, here.

Searching in Adoption: Where to Begin?

Adoption happens because a child’s first family is unable to care safely or appropriately for him or her. That first family is always present nonetheless, whether in genetics, hair texture, race, physical memory, or a silent occasional moment of wondering on birthdays.

Some adoptees grieve the loss of their first families deeply, and search meticulously and intensely. Some suppress their curiosity, in deference to adoptive parents, or to fear of what they might learn. Some accept the information they have and don’t spend much time or energy on it. Some mourn in silence, feeling guilty and confused. Some do an idle search on Facebook and happily find siblings in a single click of the laptop. Some are contacted by their original parents, or by the child they placed, out of the blue.

Birth/first parents often share many of these emotions: grief, fear, curiosity, guilt, confusion, contentment, happiness, and more.

The adoptees and first parents in these scenarios could be about any age, and anywhere in the world.

The decision to search can be gradual or sudden, well-planned or haphazard. The results can be all over the map, just like the emotions that prompted the search. Having someone along for support can be critical: a (nonjudgmental, compassionate) friend, spouse, partner, sibling, therapist, mentor.

Where to begin a search? Here is an offering:

Basic Adoption Search Resources

It’s a document I created containing both US and international search resources. It’s not all-inclusive, definitive, or guaranteed. I’ve had many people ask me privately about search resources, and so put this list together.  If it is useful to you, wonderful.

As I say at the end of the document:

May you find what you are looking for, and may it bring you peace.

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Germany’s “Brown Babies,” and the Tragic Deportation of US International Adoptees

In October 2009, a fascinating article was published in the German news magazine Der Spiegel about mixed race children of white German women and black American soldiers during World War 2. Many of these children were placed for international adoption, and grew up in the United States. My thanks to the members of the Facebook Transracial Adoption group for recently posting the article.

Titled “Germany’s ‘Brown Babies’: The Difficult Identities of Post-War Black Children of GIs,” the article talks about the fates and challenges of several of the children, who are of course now adults. The full text of the article (in English) is here.

One of the people profiled is Rudi Richardson.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“Rudi Richardson knew something about what it meant to be a black man in the United States. But after being deported to Germany, the country where he was born, shortly before his 47th birthday, he had to start figuring out what it meant to be black and German — in a land he barely remembered and whose language he didn’t speak.”

He started life as Udo Ackermann, born in a Bavarian women’s prison in 1955. His mother, a Jewish woman named Liesolette, was serving a prison term for prostitution. His father, whom he never met, was an African-American serviceman named George. Rudi was given up for adoption.

Photo Gallery

Like thousands of other postwar children with black GI fathers and white German mothers, Richardson was raised by an African-American military family in the US. He has spent his life trying to find where he fits in. Born in an era when Germany was still grappling with its responsibility for the Holocaust and when the US Army had a policy of not acknowledging paternity claims brought against its soldiers stationed abroad, some of these children were put up for adoption in the United States. At the time, Germany judged itself incapable of absorbing these “brown babies” — as they have come to call themselves. In the late 1940s and 1950s, efforts were made to match them with African-American military families, many of whom were stationed around Germany at the time.

Forbidden to Speak German

The adoptees grew up in the United States, many with no idea they were adopted or that they were half-German (for information on the difficulties encountered by black GIs wanting to stay with their German girlfriends, read the sidebar on the left). Scattered across the country, many of the children were forbidden to speak German in their new homes. At the time, it was believed that continuing to speak German would damage their ability to learn fluent English.

After a stay in a German children’s home where he says he suffered sexual and physical abuse, Richardson was adopted by a military couple as a toddler. After a few years living on base in Germany, the family returned to the US. It was about that time, Richardson recalls, that his adoptive mother began a downward spiral of alcohol addiction and mental illness.

Richardson was 17 when his parents finally told him he was adopted. He was sitting across from a probation officer following an arrest for joyriding — and he was given a choice: face the charges in court, or join the Army. Eager to be away from an increasingly unhappy home, Richardson chose the latter.

That’s when he discovered his adoptive parents had never had him naturalized as a US citizen. He says he was told he’d get citizenship automatically after being honorably discharged from the Army, but it never happened. This caused problems for him three decades later, when he was deported to Germany in 2003 after spending time in prison for drug possession and petty theft.”

That’s right: Under US law, in 2009, Rudi Richardson–adopted by US citizens internationally–was deported to Germany, at the age of 47, never to return to the US.

Yes, international adoptees can be deported back to countries where they don’t speak the language and have no connections. Unbelievable, isn’t it?

Rudi’s story, and that of other black German adoptees, is wrenching, fascinating, and troubling. I’ve written about the fact that thousands of international adoptees do not have automatic citizenship, and many have indeed been deported. Even with the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, parents should still make sure that their internationally adopted children do in fact have all documentation (including the Certificate of Citizenship). You can read more about it here.

US Congress: Will 2014 finally be the year that all international adoptees–brought to the US as minors for purposes of adoption by US citizens–are granted US citizenship?

I find it shameful and astonishing that I even have to ask that question.

 

 

Aselefech and Fang: The Conversation on YouTube

Many thanks to Aselefech Evans and Jenni Fang Lee for an amazing conversation tonight on our Google+ Hangout.

You can watch the YouTube video here of the conversation, in which they discussed identity, adoption agencies, race, family preservation, Gazillion Voices, ways to create a common narrative among adoptees, adoption fatigue, “angry adoptees,” and more.

My thanks to Cindy Rasicot of Talking Heart to Heart, for organizing and hosting the conversation.

And special deep thanks to Aselefech and Fang for sharing their stories, their insights, and their realities. Wow.

As Fang says in the conversation, this was groundbreaking: an Asian adoptee and an African adoptee, talking about what they have (and don’t have) in common, what’s been ok and what needs to change in adoption, while 2 white, older adoptive moms (mostly) listen.

Aselefech Evans and Jenni Fang Lee
Aselefech Evans and Jenni Fang Lee

Additional information about Aselefech and Fang is available here from a previous post.

Hangout with Jenni Fang Lee and Aselefech Evans

Here’s the Youtube link for the conversation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDC3NlSI60I&feature=share

 

Hope you saved the date (tonight!) for this conversation between Jenni Fang Lee, a Chinese adoptee who was featured in the acclaimed documentary Somewhere Between, and Aselefech Evans, an Ethiopian adoptee who is a columnist with Gazillion Voices.

The Google+ Hangout is Monday, December 9, at 6pm pacific, 9pm eastern. More info about Aselefech and Fang is available here.

I am honored to be co-hosting this conversation with my dear friend and colleague Cindy Rasicot.

For the Hangout, you’ll need a Gmail address, and your computer/Mac needs to be Google+ ready.  For information on Google+ Hangouts, click here.

Once you have the address and any needed plug-ins for your computer/Mac, you can click on this link, and that will give you the link to tonight’s conversation.

If you aren’t able to join us, we are recording the conversation and will upload it to YouTube. I’ll post the YouTube link as soon as it is available.

Many thanks to Cindy Rasicot for all her work, energy, and insights! Can’t wait to hear from Aselefech and Fang! Huge thanks to them as well!

Aselefech Evans and Jenni Fang Lee

Aselefech Evans and Jenni Fang Lee

Adoption, Art Therapy, and PTSD

There’s a school of thought that adoption is equivalent to violence, that the separation from one’s mother is inherently traumatic, and that the loss of a family (language, culture, history, birthright, traditions) is for some people so severe as to be debilitating.

As an adoptive parent, I find that school of thought to be sobering and daunting. I’d like it to be wrong. Yet I know that, for some adoptees, the impact of their being adopted–even if it’s the “right thing,” even if the adoptive parents are good and loving people–has a challenging, lifelong impact that interferes with their ability to trust others and to build healthy relationships.

Add to the trauma of being adopted any incidents of abuse and/or neglect, either before or after adoption, and you have the potential for a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

We think of that diagnosis perhaps most frequently for soldiers who have witnessed or participated in horrific acts during wartime, and who then seek help after that trauma. But PTSD can appear in other circumstances, including adoption.

The National Institute of Mental Health explains it this way:

“When in danger, it’s natural to feel afraid. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger.

PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers.”

Immanuel Williams was diagnosed with PTSD after being removed from his adoptive home. During the trial of his adoptive parents, Larry and Carri Williams, Immanuel’s therapist testified about Immanuel’s diagnosis and prognosis. I wrote about the therapist’s testimony here.

I doubt that most adoptees struggle with PTSD, but I am certain that some do. In any case, many children, teens, and adults deal with the “fight or flee” response quite often. I’ve read about a “freeze” response as well, that response of an inability to react, of staring, of feeling panic or anxiety. I would not minimize the trauma of adoption. Most adoptees ultimately do just fine, but some have mighty struggles. We do them and their families a disservice to minimize or deny the impact of grief, loss, and trauma.

In addition to understanding attachment and trauma, in addition to working with skilled clinicians in determining a diagnosis, art therapy can often be a significant healing tool, for wounded warriors, for adoptees, for anyone working through a profoundly painful experience.

Here’s a recent New York news story about the successful use of art therapy with soldiers.    There’s a good, brief video about the program. Here’s an example of the art:

From wwnytv.com: "Art Therapy Helps PTSD Sufferers"

From wwnytv.com: “Art Therapy Helps PTSD Sufferers”

We tend as a society to discount or minimize the mental suffering that we ourselves or others go through. We also tend to minimize the value of art in healing some of that suffering. I am increasingly convinced that art can do great things in helping create new stories, or in expressing pain in safe ways, and in then leaving the pain behind.

It doesn’t have to with artistic talent. It has to do with letting go, with letting sadness and trauma take a different form, and with easing suffering.

Source: Healing Through Art (Facebook site)

Source: Healing Through Art (Facebook site)

Here are a few related Facebook sites; click on them to see more.

Healing With Art (I got the link to the New York story from this site.)

Art Therapy Without Borders 

Art Therapy

According to the news story about the soldiers: “A permanent display of hand prints and pins will soon be on the wall of the building for all who enter to see and will include the following quote chosen by the soldiers themselves: ‘The healing of your invisible wounds begins here.’ ”

Let me say that again: “The healing of your invisible wounds begins here.”